Observing dyspnoea in others can induce feelings of dyspnoea

9 March, 2018

Researchers have found that observing dyspnoea in others can lead to the development of mild-to-moderate dyspnoea, negative affect, and increased brain responses in people not typically affected by shortness of breath.

The findings are published online in early-view in the European Respiratory Journal.

In three studies, a total of 131 participants with normal hearing and vision were shown a series of pictures and videos depicting people in dyspnoea-related situations. Participants were also shown non-dyspnoeic control stimuli.

Self-reports of dyspnoea and affective state were obtained in all studies, and respiratory variables and brain responses during picture viewing were measured in one of the studies.

All three studies consistently demonstrated that merely observing dyspnoea in others induced an experience of mild-to-moderate dyspnoea in the observers. Increases in vicarious dyspnoea were modestly related to higher levels of empathy in the observer; empathy was assessed using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index.

Participants also experienced increased negative affect and increased brain responses, as indicated by larger late positive potentials during observation of dyspnoea-related pictures.

The researchers state that the findings may be particularly relevant for caregivers of dyspnoeic patients who document a high level of burden, as vicarious dyspnoea and related negative affect might contribute to an even higher burden among this group.